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Black Monks and Builders

In the center of the little Italian mountainous country where Virgil once lived and Horace had his farm, and near where in other times Aquino was built, home of Juvenile and of Thomas (St. Thomas Aquinas), there stood in early Roman times a temple of Apollo and Venus. St. Benedict (480 - 543) founded on the site of it the first monastery in Europe, a small house which he called San Germano, and later Mt. Cassino, which, after having been more than once rebuilt, was in World War II bombed into rubble by Allied planes after the Germans had turned it into a fortress. This early monastery, which Benedict, a man of hard sense, founded in 529, he turned into a Monastic Order, called the Benedictines or Black Monks (from color of their habit), the first Monastic Order founded on the Continent; other Orders, some of them its daughters, were to follow it, the Carthusians, the Clusiacs, the Franciscans (half monastic), but none was ever to rival it in strength and stability.

After they had become established in centers as far away as England, and had become possessed of property, the Benedictines had many Abbeys built, and other Monastic structures. A number of these are famous buildings; a few were masterpieces of Gothic.

A legend grew up long afterwards that the Benedictines had themselves been Europe's first architects, and a few Masons even began to believe that it was they who had fathered Medieval Masonry, among the latter being Bro. Ossian Lang, who gave the theory as much support as he could find (in his treatises on Eleventh Century School for Builders, and his Black Monks).

Benedict's rule was founded on work. Each member was assigned a form of work, and was expected to give his daily time to itm, and each one was required to read at least one book a year. But there is no evidence anywhere to prove that they were ever architects or even plain builders; even the work rule fell in abeyance after the early honeymoon period. In his massive Art and. the Reformation, G. G. Coulton sweeps together every scrap of written records into a chapter, and shows that the monks were not architects, and that they hired laymen to come in from the outside to cultivate their fields and gardens, and even to work in the kitchens ; and not many of them ever managed to read his one book a year, or learned to read. If they ever had any connection with Freemasonry it has escaped detection; one set of Fabric Rolls, probably belonging to York, shows that the Freemasons there expressly stipulated that no monks from the nearby Benedictine houses were to work with them. (There are abundant bibliographics in the Cambridge Medieval History. See also Medieval Italy, by H. B. Cotterill, London, George C. Harrap, 1915, and Renaissance of the Twelfth. Century, by F. L. Haskins.)

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